Michele Landsberg – Toronto Star February 16, 2003
So you wonder why so many Canadians are opposed to the U.S. plans to attack Iraq? It's not that we're weak-kneed wimps of Canuckistan, or bleeding-heart pacifists, or saps who actually believe Saddam, to repeat some of the more boorish epithets.
Whatever our other reasons for opposing the war, we're also skeptics, remembering the long history of official lies that have served as a smokescreen for U.S. government adventurism in other places and times.
Some of us remember Cuba, and how mighty America and its CIA planned an invasion of that little island after Fidel Castro came to power. Their tragically botched attack in 1961, when more than 100 commandoes died senselessly at the Bay of Pigs, is not forgotten.
I've been browsing some of the declassified documents that record the actual top-secret conversations of the most powerful men in America, then and afterward, in their obsessive and ludicrous attempts to invent a plausible reason to launch a major military attack on Cuba.
In March, 1962, for example, the top officials of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met in Washington to come up with ideas "which would provide justification for U.S. military intervention in Cuba." Operation Mongoose, it was called. (Presumably, Castro was the cobra).
To destroy Castro was a government obsession. "...All else is secondary, no time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared" said a White House memo.
They plotted to destroy Cuba's sugar crop or to contaminate food supplies, in order to provoke the lamentably "apathetic" Cubans to rebel, rise up and call in American troops to help them overthrow Castro. They thought of creating "at least the illusion of a popular [anti-Castro] movement," for want of a real one.
According to these archived documents, the Americans were prepared to do anything: invade Guatemala with soldiers disguised as Cubans, blow up one of their own warships in Guantanamo Bay and stage a fake funeral for the `victims', and even rig up an elaborate phoney attack on a tourist charter flight (complete with airplane debris floating in the ocean) to persuade the United Nations and world public opinion that the U.S. was "suffering justifiable grievances". They went so far as to consider mounting a terrorism campaign against Cuban exiles in Miami, even wounding some people and "widely publicizing" the incidents as caused by Castro. Or — and please listen to the jaunty language — "We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated)."
These covert operations, including "a build-up of seemingly unrelated incidents", would, they vowed, create an image of the Cuban government as "rash and irresponsible ... an alarming and unpredictable threat to the peace of the Western Hemisphere".
Does any of this sound hauntingly familiar? Is there any echo with the current depiction of Iraq as demonically dangerous?
For much of the last half of the 20th century, American presidents and their chief advisers and military leaders were directly involved in elaborate schemes of drug-running, manipulating public opinion through planted editorials and news stories, and illicit campaigns of what they themselves called "White propaganda," like the now-notorious episode of the hoked-up Iraqi atrocities against incubator babies in Kuwait, a crime invented by a powerful public relations firm and used to sway Congress to support the Gulf War.
I needn't remind Star readers about the government crimes of the Iran-Contra gun-running scandal, ruthlessly designed to overturn the elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua by organizing and arming the Contra opposition. Browse the National Security Archives and you can eavesdrop directly on these ruthless conspirators as they plotted to use the U.S. media to vilify their enemies and whitewash their chosen henchmen.
But don't stop there. Go ahead and read the transcript of the meeting at the White House in September, 1970.They were all there: Nixon, his vice-president, the heads of the CIA and the military. Henry Kissinger spelled out how they must "bring down" Salvador Allende, the newly elected democratic socialist president of Chile. They all agreed to subvert Allende by sabotaging the Chilean economy, while (and Nixon insisted on this) behaving publicly "in a cool and correct manner".
Allende, of course, was duly murdered three years later in a coup orchestrated by the CIA, which ushered in the 17-year bloody dictatorship by mass murderer Augusto Pinochet.
The history of U.S. foreign policy is paradoxical: so much bush-league covert action, so many lies, so many failures, so little understanding of consequences, so many botched interventions. And yet, such openness. What other regime would make its top secret documents available through freedom of information laws, to be read on the Internet by anyone with an inquiring mind?
Perhaps U.S. leaders can afford to be so open because they believe their citizens to be infinitely manipulable through the obligingly docile media. The patriotic American public, after all, bought the lies about the Gulf of Tonkin (a supposed attack on U.S. warships that actually never happened), precipitating the disastrous Vietnam War. They believed the TV version of the Gulf War, with "smart bombs" zipping through windows to kill only bad guys.
And for all I know, they believe the charade that Saddam Hussein is linked to Al Qaeda. The U.S. media have almost turned themselves into an arm of government propaganda.
They're still repeating the mantra that "Saddam gassed his own people," even though the senior CIA political analyst in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war has recently written — in the New York Times, no less — that the Kurdish civilians who died in that attack were killed by a poison gas that only Iran had at that time. They even believe that Saddam wilfully marched into Kuwait as some sort of unprovoked Hitlerian aggressor, despite the well-documented history of the border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait that goes back at least to the time of World War I.
Most Canadians, however, don't buy the idea that Saddam, however vicious a dictator, poses an imminent threat to world peace or safety, any more than Fidel Castro did.
History is just too heavy with fateful lies — lies that led to too many millions of needless deaths — for skeptical Canadians to agree to go to war at the behest of George Dubya Bush.
Last updated 19/02/2003